When Robert Covington left the court on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, he did not expect his absence from the Minnesota Timberwolves to last long.
He had not broken or torn anything, so his apparent injury hiatus should be short-lived, he and anyone watching figured.
The Timberwolves were 17-20, hardly out of playoff contention in the aggressive West. They had rattled off an 8-3 stretch when Covington first arrived from Philadelphia in the Jimmy Butler trade, turning a tumultuous 5-9 start into a 13-12 standing filled with possibility. Even the subsequent 4-8 stretch did not totally derail hopes.
Covington’s injury did.
“I was sitting back at home while my team is sitting up here trying to win games, make that playoff push,” he said Monday at Minnesota’s annual Media Day. “I was on my way back when I had that small setback and had to have surgery. That made me even more frustrated.”
The bone bruise to Covington’s knee eventually developed swelling that needed surgery to address, removing loose bodies from the knee. Even if the swelling setback required the surgery just to be properly diagnosed, it was merely the obvious injury, not the only one.
“I thought [a bone bruise] was something so minor, so simple, when actually it’s not,” Covington said. “It was more in-depth than what I actually knew. I was frustrated.”
The threat to Covington’s long-term play, and thus the Timberwolves’ future, was that frustration and the effects that came from it. The seven-year veteran felt his headspace wavering to such a degree that he dispatched his family, not wanting his deteriorating mood to rub off on them.
Someone who prides himself on bringing an uplifting energy to every room he walks into, Covington instead walked around Minnesota’s facilities with his head down, lost in thoughts of his teammates “busting their ass each and every day to make it to the playoffs” while he could do nothing but watch.
The Timberwolves’ coaching staff took over six days after that New Year’s Eve injury, with Ryan Saunders moving from assistant coach to interim head coach when Tom Thibodeau was fired. In that assistant’s role, Saunders had known Covington since only the trade in mid-November, yet it was clear to the now-head coach that what was amiss was nothing to dismiss.
Saunders, general manager Scott Layden and head trainer Gregg Farnam sat down with Covington to talk through the effects of the injury, both physical and mental.
“It brought tears to my eyes because not only did they notice — I knew on the inside how I was affected,” Covington said. “It built trust because Ryan shared stories with me about how a therapist helped him with the loss of his father, how he dealt with it.
“Ryan gave me motivation to keep reading, to keep my head in a positive manner to where there’s going to be days when you have stress and frustration and everything. How you handle that is what is going to dictate the outcome of how you feel about it.”
Covington took their advice and spent a couple sessions with a therapist. To hear him tell it, that proactive approach aided both Covington’s mental health and his physical recovery.
“The therapist gave me a professional way to view everything, to handle certain things, to get through it,” he said. “That’s what has allowed me during this whole phase to not have any issues and what has helped my recovery process…If I do have a day where I do feel discomfort or anything, I’m not viewing it as I did before based off of where I was five months ago. I’m nowhere near that person.”
Instead, Covington knows and acknowledges he is not yet in playing shape — only recently cleared for competitive action. He understands the long run is valued more than October, particularly in an organization now preaching sustainable success under president Gersson Rosas. These practical approaches fit how Covington long approached the game on the court, his under-the-radar contributions adding up to a whole performance pushing the team over the top.
That is part of why the Timberwolves went 8-3 when he first arrived, a groove Covington fully expects the team to get back into. After all, the core pieces of that stretch are still around, despite rampant roster turnover.
“We still have the same caliber of guys, just not the names behind them,” he said. “They’re guys that are younger, but we still do the exact same thing…You just come into the building and buy into what we’re doing. That’s what guys are doing the past month and a half as they’re working, getting to know the system.”
That system has changed, as one might expect with Saunders installing his own staff under Rosas’ guidance. The united front now preaches an up-tempo offense focusing on efficient shots and a defense ripe with switching, as much a philosophical method of defending as one natural to a roster loaded with wings. The first thing Saunders cited as a focus of this week’s practice was, in fact, defense.
It is Covington’s calling card, so his physical and mental health is paramount to its success. That is not lost on anyone, particularly not franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns, who did not hesitate to put Covington’s name into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
Covington will likely spend considerable time as the biggest body alongside Towns. That would, in theory, leave Towns alone responsible for protecting the rim. The seven-footer sees it the other way around.
“We all look way better defensively because you don’t have to worry about — for me, personally, I know if RoCo is on that side, on the wing, I don’t have to worry about penetration coming into the paint,” Towns said. “I don’t have to protect it.
“One of the biggest things I’ve stressed a lot is I don’t want to be leading the league again in contested shots…There’s no reason I should be doing that, because we should be playing defense to a standard where I don’t have to contest that many shots and put myself in a position [of foul trouble].”
Towns fouled out nine times last season, coming one foul away from it another 19 times. Lessening that starts with Towns, obviously, and extends past Covington, who Towns expects to defend four positions. It also lands at the feet of free-agent signee Jordan Bell, who Towns suggested can defend all five positions, and even Andrew Wiggins. They will all be pieces of Saunders’ switching schemes.
“That’s just going to make us more and more deadlier,” Covington said. “It’s going to give us a little bit more freedom to do things. We are able to make up for a small [mistake].”
Those defensive efforts begin with Covington on the court. After all, he was active for only one of the Timberwolves’ 12 worst defensive showings last season. Towns specifically mentioned giving up 140-plus points four times; there were another eight instances of Minnesota allowing 130 or more.
If Covington’s presence is vital to stopping such egregious showings — and it is — then the Timberwolves’ desired defensive improvements began in the offseason with a difficult conversation between Covington and a head coach he had never played for.
A conversation that inspired trust and led to needed recovery, mental as much as physical.
The Career Evolution of Vince Carter
At the height of his game, the man known as Half Man, Half Amazing was must-see TV. Now in his 22nd year in the NBA, Vince Carter is proving his worth as he elevates one of the brightest young teams in the league. Chad Smith writes.
The Atlanta Hawks have quietly become the darling team of the NBA. After three excellent years of drafting, the Hawks appear to be headed in the right direction. The dynamic duo of John Collins and Trae Young is one that every team would love to have, but it goes deeper than that for Atlanta.
Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, and Cam Reddish are all part of the sensational young core that the Hawks have put together over the past few years. Balancing that youth and inexperience can be difficult as many veteran players would rather get the playing time or join an established championship contender.
Mentoring young players is not the most desired role for many guys in the league. It takes a special breed of player to accept and savor the opportunity to shape the next wave of stars.
Not only has Vince Carter taken on that role, he has excelled in it. The fifth overall pick from the 1998 draft is the last remaining active player from the 1990s era. In fact, Carter is set to become the first player in NBA history to play in four different decades, should he see the floor after December 31st.
Carter is entering his 22nd season which breaks a tie with Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki, Robert Parish, and Kevin Willis for the most in league history. Parish, Willis, and Nat Hickey are the only three players that have ever appeared in an NBA game at 43 or older. Vince will turn 43 years old on January 26.
Often referred to as Vinsanity, Air Canada, and Half Man Half Amazing during his career, Carter was one of the most athletic guys to step on the hardwood. He knows that he is a far cry from the spry shooting guard that made his NBA debut on February 5, 1999. The eight-time All-Star has learned a lot in his time, and he is now able to pass it along to the younger generation.
The art of teaching is one thing, but doing it while also keeping your own body prepared to play is another. Carter has played for eight different organizations and three of them in the last three seasons. After stops in Memphis and Sacramento, the veteran landed in Atlanta last year where he played 76 games. He is not just sitting on the bench or just there to be a presence in the locker room. Carter has played an average of 71 games per season over the last seven years.
The average age of the Hawks roster is 23.72 years without counting Carter. Adding him brings that up almost a full year. What he means to this team cannot be measured by analytic data or eye-popping statistics. His savvy experience and professionalism are two of the reasons Atlanta wanted him back this year, along with his production on the floor.
Carmelo Anthony is a name that is brought up quite often. Many people question why a team still has not signed the popular ten-time All-Star. Unlike Carter, Anthony has been unwilling to make the sacrifices and accept the role that he is given. Not only has Vince embraced it, but he has found value in contributing in a variety of areas.
It is very fitting that Carter has decided to spend the final season of his illustrious career as a tutor. He doesn’t want the farewell tour that many other stars have had in recent years. Known to many as the guy who dunked over a 7-foot-2 defender and shut down an entire dunk contest, Carter views himself as a guy that owes it to the game to give back.
Carter spent the first seven years of his career in Toronto, where his 23.4 points per game average is still the highest in franchise history. He played 403 games with the team and led them to their first playoff series win in 2001 where they came up one win short of the Eastern Conference Finals. Carter had the opportunity to head back to Canada last season, in pursuit of a title – which they captured. He could have done it, and everyone would have understood the move. He stated that he would only consider it if the organization “wants and feels they need my services.”
In Carter’s mind, his job was to focus on helping develop Atlanta’s young squad.
The 1998-1999 Rookie of the Year has played many roles over the course of his career. He has gone from a rim-attacking superstar to a solid perimeter scorer. The two-time All-NBA wing has always been a high-flying scorer, even in the latter stage of his career. He has a wealth of knowledge and perspective that he can offer to Atlanta’s rising stars.
Speaking with USA Today’s Dan Wolken, Carter elaborated on his role with the young Hawks players.
“I want these guys to understand their importance,” Carter said. “This is the foundation of what you want to be a part of in a couple of years. So, okay, after two weeks maybe we lost four in a row. Are you tired of losing? Let’s fix the problem. Let’s fix our approach. Let’s go a little harder, whatever the case may be, that’s what we’re trying to change, which will hopefully roll over.”
After winning five more games last year than they did the previous season, the Hawks aim to continue their upward trajectory. They may not be anything like the 60-win team from 2014-2015 that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they could very well get there in a few years. Developing the talent they have will be vital to their future.
Lloyd Pierce is entering his second year as head coach after spending four seasons as an assistant in Philadelphia. He knows how Carter operates, and how he is able to get through to the rest of the team. Pierce played with Steve Nash at Santa Clara, where he learned how to get a barometer of the team chemistry. He stresses “staying connected” with each other, through high-fives and individual presentations – a concept he carried over from Philadelphia.
Coach Pierce stresses having a nurturing culture that is built upon team and player development. Carter has been leading the charge in both of those areas since the start of last season.
Carter needs to play in 19 games this season to join the exclusive 1,500 game club. Parish, Nowitzki, John Stockton, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are the only guys to have played more games. The only other players currently on a roster inside the top 40 in games played are Joe Johnson (30th), and Pau Gasol (38th). We know that Father Time is undefeated, but no player has made more use of his time than Carter has.
Carter may never get the title that so many star players yearn for, but he knows that will not define him. Carter would rather prepare the young stars for a better opportunity to earn a ring than chase one himself. That is the epitome of being a role model and a mentor.
Should The Knicks Pick Up Options On Young, Unproven Talent?
The Knicks have three young players whose third- and fourth-year options must be decided on before Nov. 1. Should they pick them up or continue amassing salary cap space in hopes of chasing Anthony Davis? Drew Maresca analyzes the pros and cons of hanging on to young talent for another year.
NBA teams face all kinds of decisions and, of course, most major decisions teams face have underlying financial implications. Naturally, Oklahoma City would have loved to re-sign Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka following the 2012 season, but the prospect of paying the luxury tax seemed too prohibitive to ownership and general manager Sam Presti.
And like most other teams, the Knicks have plenty of big financial decisions to make very soon – namely, whether or not to offer long-term extensions or merely pick up their respective team options.
For context, teams must decide on rookie-scale extensions by Monday, Oct. 21 — the night before the beginning of the season — and they need to weigh fourth-year options for players with two years of experience and third-year options for those that signed their rookie deals last year by Oct. 31. Rookie deal third-and fourth-year options are still affordable enough that it makes sense to pick up most team options regardless if a player plays a major role or not – and if they do, the option becomes all-the-more affordable.
Now, most lottery picks see their third and fourth-year team options picked up. But the Knicks are in the unusual position of having to decide on all three prior to any of them demonstrating consistency or overly-productive play. The three currently eligible for extensions or team options are Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Knox. None have set themselves apart as a long-term starter. None of them are seen as a complete player. And each has his own well-documented limitations – but still, do the pros outmeasure the cons?
Ntilikina is a rock-solid defender — butut his production on the offensive end has been inconsistent and unreliable. He shot a mere 28.7 percent on three-point attempts last season with a 39.5 percent effective field goal percentage. Unfortunately, he has proven to be a non-factor in terms of scoring the ball consistently and he disappears entirely at times.
Smith Jr. can absolutely get buckets. His athleticism is a major positive and he’s a better defender than most people believe. But Smith Jr. has efficiency problems, too. In 2018-19, Smith Jr. shot only 32.2 percent on three-pointers and 63.5 percent from the free-throw line — both are far below what teams expect from a starting guard. Worse, those season totals are better than what he demonstrated in two and a half months in New York. Beyond that, his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.07) was below the league average for point guards last season.
Knox is younger and has less experience, so he deserves a little extra slack. Still, there are a number of knocks on Knox – specifically around defense and efficiency. According to cleaningtheglass.com, Knox’s assist percentage was in the sixth percentile among players at his position and his turnover percentage was in the tenth percentile. Somehow, he posted an equally horrid defensive rating and effective field goal percentage. Knox has lots of potential, but he also needs to make major improvements and make better decisions with the ball and on defense.
Re-signing any of the three to long-term deals is probably out of the question from a timing standpoint as there are only three days left to do so. And there’s probably limited desire to do so, anyway. But what about their third- and fourth-year options, should the Knicks pick them all up? The answer is simple – yes, and without hesitation, but let’s explore why:
The options for Smith Jr., Ntilikina and Knox are set at $5.68 million, $6.176 million and $4.58 million, respectively.
While the 2020 free agent class appears limited compared to recent seasons – there are no sure-fire All-Stars other than Anthony Davis – the Knicks maintained salary cap flexibility thanks to creative team options and one-year signings that cover literally every signing made this past offseason. So picking up all of the aforementioned options represents a commitment of more than $16 million, which will eat into the aforementioned flexibility they smartly invented just recently.
Well, yes — but there should be more space to use. However, the Knicks can’t know exactly where the salary cap will land next season – and it could end up significantly lower than previous estimates due to the current NBA-China beef – but the options represent three contributors to the roster, all of whom they can control for at least one more season. And remember, New York doesn’t have too much depth.
Beyond their young core. Smith Jr., Ntilikina and Knox will all play a role for the team. Looking back to last season, they played 21.0, 29.02 and 28.8 minutes per game as Knicks last season, individually. Those numbers should go up in 2019-20, and paying between $4.5 and $6.2 million apiece to play such large roles is mostly impossible elsewhere.
Thusly, approximately $16 million is a bargain for three contributors — but that becomes all the more obvious when we consider that the average salary was $6.38 million in 2018-19 – more than any of the individual option years. At 21, 21 and 20 years old, these three players should all take leaps forward in their respective development, meaning their salaries could become even more of a bargain than they are now. Further, the salary cap is $109 million this season and none of those options would represent even six percent of the 2019-20 cap.
Even if the Knicks played it frugally and declined their options in favor of cap savings, what would the Knicks even do with them? We’ve already established that the class is less-than-stellar; but what’s more, who’s to say any would be attracted to Madison Square Garden, anyway? The Knicks have had limited (and small) success(es) in free agency. That’s not to say they should give up. But it’s their reality and it’s on them to change it.
New York has suffered major culture setbacks in recent years that landed them exactly where they are. In reverse chronological order, there’s been: The public fallout of them being burned by 2019 free agents, Kristaps Porzingis asking to be traded, James Dolan having Charles Oakley escorted out of Madison Square Garden and all of the damage done by Phil Jackson (e.g., the “posse” fiasco and his public, passive-aggressive war with Carmelo Anthony). That only takes us back through 2014 and ignores the Isiah Thomas-era and the fact that they’ve won one playoff series in the past 18 years.
Having said all that, and despite what Presidential candidate Andrew Yang thinks, there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. But from a cost-efficiency standpoint, as well as to continue building a positive perception league-wide, the Knicks must pick up all three options. Ultimately, they’ll be better for in both the short- and long-term.
NBA Daily: Hield, Kings Both Have Room To Bargain
Buddy Hield understandably feels as if he’s worth more than the Kings have offered him, but that doesn’t mean he’s worth more than that to Sacramento, specifically. Douglas Farmer writes.
The emotion in Buddy Hield’s voice Wednesday night made it clear his words were not a negotiating ploy. When the fourth-year shooting guard said he would find someplace else to play if the Sacramento Kings did not properly respect him in contract negotiations, he was sincere.
“We’ll see if they’ll have me here,” Hield said. “Feels home to be here. I love Sacramento, but if they don’t feel I’m part of the core … if they don’t want to do it, then after that, I’ll look for somewhere else to go.”
Kings guard Buddy Hield is taking these contract talks very personally. In an emotional postgame interview, he talked about “finding another home” if the team doesn’t get a deal done by Monday’s deadline. pic.twitter.com/sEkJEZfNkS
— Jason Anderson (@JandersonSacBee) October 17, 2019
The Kings have until Monday to reach an agreement on a rookie-scale extension with Hield, who is eligible for a four-year deal north of $130 million or a designated-player extension of five years and $170 million.
But Hield may not be looking for those outlandish numbers. Per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Hield is looking for a contract of about $110 million, while Sacramento has offered only $90 million across four years.
“It’s not always about less than the max, it’s just something that’s reasonable and is not an insult,” Hield said. “If we respect each other on that level, we’ll come to that agreement.”
Hield shot 42.7 percent from deep last season on 7.9 attempts per game while averaging 20.7 points. He may not necessarily be worthy of a max contract, but his is a valued skill set in the modern NBA. Combine that with the weak 2020 free agent class, and Hield has some ground to dig in upon at the bargaining table. If an extension is not agreed to, Hield would not be free to go wherever he wishes next summer, but he would be free to pursue that which might force the Kings’ hand as a restricted free agent.
Of wings expected to hit the market next summer, Hield would be joined by Otto Porter, Joe Harris and, possibly, Hield’s current teammate, Bogdan Bogdanović (also restricted). It really could be that shallow of a shooting pool. Gordon Hayward is likely to pick up his $31.2 million player option with the Boston Celtics, while DeMar DeRozan and the San Antonio Spurs are reportedly in discussions. Meanwhile, Caris LeVert has already signed a new deal with the Nets.
That market vacuum could drive up Hield’s summertime price, though Sacramento could still match any offer. If the Kings would match ties into the exact reasons they are risking alienating a core player in the first place. Sacramento has returned to respectability — both in the standings and in perceived approach — by building through the draft. But their bill is almost due.
Hield, Bogdanović, point guard De’Aaron Fox and forward Marvin Bagley are all approaching paydays in the next few seasons. The Kings are almost certainly going to make massive offers to Fox and Bagley in 2021 and 2022, respectively, and those contracts will tie up Sacramento’s books for much of the 2020s. The additional $5 million per year sought by Hield could preclude other moves when combined with Fox’s and Bagley’s deals.
The Kings’ ground is strengthened by holding Bogdanović’s restricted rights, as well. If they lose Hield, they will still have a starting-quality shooting guard to play alongside Fox in Bogdanović. He may not have hit 602 threes in his first three seasons in the league as Hield has, but Bogdanović is currently at 263 through two years, hardly anything to readily dismiss.
Even though Bogdanović will not cost as much as Hield — pondering a $51.4 million, four-year extension — keeping both pieces of the shooting duo may prove too costly for Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadivé. At which point, Hield’s raw emotions Wednesday night may foreshadow Ranadivé’s decision.
Where could Hield go, if for no other reason than to drive up his price?
Any discussion of 2020 free agents must include the Atlanta Hawks, who could have as much as $79.1 million in cap space. Hield would fit both their roster timeline and its general construction, though they did just snag both De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish in the 2019 draft. Hield’s minutes would come from the same pool as theirs, making this pairing a bit redundant.
There would be no such conflict with the Dallas Mavericks, whose centerpieces currently miss a wing with range from deep. The Mavericks would lack the space to sign Hield if Tim Hardaway Jr. opts into his $19 million player option, but that could simply precede a sign-and-trade with the Kings. There are certainly ways to make the space necessary should Dallas owner Mark Cuban want to.
If Hield wanted to be a part of another group that is “getting the team back to where it needs to be,” the Memphis Grizzlies would be a situation very similar to Sacramento’s. Forward Jaren Jackson Jr. will see his first big contract begin in 2022 and this year’s No. 2 overall pick Ja Morant should follow that trend a year later. The Grizzlies, however, do not have an exceptional shooter to pair with their young duo. If nothing else, Memphis could drive up the price on Hield to compromise the Kings’ cap space moving forward.
Those possibilities, among others, give Hield practical reason to stand his ground for what he feels he’s worth, while Sacramento’s long view may make it think twice. As emotional and blunt as he was, Hield understands these realities.
“Some people will get the max and some people won’t get the max,” he said. “That’s how it works.”